There will be far fewer chimneys for Santa to squeeze through this holiday season as almost one million Americans have lost their homes and more people are living on the streets and in homeless shelters now than since the Great Depression of 1929. Jobs are scarce and the nonprofit community is struggling to care for the rapidly growing number of homeless families, war veterans, victims of domestic violence and chronically homeless filling shelters throughout the country. In the twenty years that HELP USA has provided housing and services for these populations the organization has never anticipated such dire circumstances. For those living a paycheck away from losing their homes, the 6.7 percent national unemployment rate and grave financial forecast manifest in anxiety and despair. The precarious safety net provided by government has become a dangerous tightrope on which individuals and families in crisis are desperately trying to balance.
The new administration's stimulus plan must address not only the immediate needs of Americans suffering recent unemployment and home loss but the millions more who require job training and opportunities to develop marketable skills in order to compete. We know from experience that investing in vital human services, affordable housing, and employment programs that enable job security and family stability will also strengthen the economy over time. As the economy weakens and unemployment escalates, so too will the crime rate and incidents of domestic violence -- two factors that contribute significantly to homelessness.
Further investment by federal and local government in proven homeless prevention programs and permanent supportive service housing models can protect the soaring number of households who are at risk of losing their job security and entering the homeless system. The chronically homeless whose special needs compromise their ability to sustain self sufficiency will languish in shelters, further burdening the economy without access to services that will improve their ability to live independently and productively.
For the last twenty years, the public and private sectors have worked together to build a strategic continuum of care based on HELP USA's model of addressing the underlying factors of homelessness and moving people from shelters to permanent housing and self sufficiency as quickly as possible. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations recognized the long-term fiscal efficacy of this system as one that ultimately reduces expense to government and taxpayers. We cannot afford the economic or human cost of moving backward at this unstable time by reducing investment in the welfare and potential of those with the greatest need.
Although the country enters the New Year burdened with seemingly ceaseless, complex problems, an undeniable sense of hope prevails. It is President elect-Obama's "Can Do" spirit that reminds us of what we "Must Do" to provide opportunity for every American to live independently and with dignity.